There can be as many as 9 people involved in creating a bespoke suit, and often a customer will only meet the Cutter, the person who measures them and cuts the cloth. Once cut, it gets bundled up with trimmings and linings and sent off to one of the workshops around Savile Row to people like Barry, a trouser maker for Henry Poole (and I J-Gilbert).
I became a trouser maker in 1968. But I started doing bits and pieces when I was about 14. My mother was a trouser finisher and used to work from home so she could look after me and my four siblings. I would do her serging (binding the edges of the cloth so they don't fray). Since there were no overlockers back then, everything had to be done by hand. And my cousin was a trouser maker in a workshop on Conduit Street. I would spend the school holidays assisting him too.
A lot has changed since then. As well as no overlockers, there were no steam irons. Everything had to be pressed with water, a dobber and a heavy old press iron. It took forever. Shrinking and shaping the legs was hard work. But at least the cloth was strong and easy to shape. Nowadays the cloth is so fine that it is much harder to control. It either doesn't shrink away or it stretches out of shape more easily. You have to put extra linen in the pockets and openings to secure them.
I like the personalised element of bespoke. I like the care and attention given to each pair. My sister works for a ready-to-wear company, they turn out 300 pairs of trousers a week. Everything there is block cut and sewn notch to notch. She could probably finish a pair in half an hour. Bespoke is more creative. Every customer's shape is unique, the variety of fabrics require different handling. Plus, I get to meet the customers, to see who's wearing the pieces I've created, like the man with the 68" waist who didn't look how I'd imagined. Or the celebrities who wear my pieces on red carpets and TV.
I've always been based around Savile Row. Apart from a brief period in Holborn, I prefer to be in the midst of things. Your day goes quicker when you're in a workshop full of like minded people, taking pride and pleasure in their work. It makes for a nice atmosphere. Everyone in the trade gets on really well. Most people have worked for more than one company so we all know each other. I've been with Henry Poole for 16 years now but I still do jobs for other firms too.
If I wasn't a tailor I'd be running a fish and chip shop. I used to run one in Buckinghamshire and I still help my brother-in-law in his from time to time. But tailoring is where my heart is. Nothing comes close to the pleasure you get from creating something for someone from scratch.